Jalmari Helander is the director of the new film Big Game starring Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Onni Tommila and many more. Here is an interview with him where we discuss his new film, his background in Finland, how the production of Big Game came together and what we should expect from him in the near future. Note: I’m gonna let you know right now as you read this, think of Jalmari Helander as sounding like a Finnish Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Hello Jalmari Helander, this is Andrew Hawkins from CHUD.com, how are you sir?
I am good. How are you?
AH: I am very good. First off I wanted to let you know that I really like your movie Big Game. I’m also a fan of Rare Exports and I’m really honored to talk to you.
JH: (laughs) That’s great to hear, as always. Thanks.
AH: I’d like to start off by asking you, what made you want to make a film like Big Game; this film where the President gets involved in a terrorist situation, gets betrayed and then has to survive for his life while being hunted?
JH: Well, me and the producer Petri Jokiranta were thinking that I would like to make a film that would happen in Finland. I would also to have a bigger budget, we would need to talk English. We’d need to also have American angle with this film, and one day it just happened that in one of our conversations, it was like a joke to say it should be something like Air Force One would crash-land in Northern Finland. And then it was like, “Actually that’s a really good idea.” and we are creative and start to develop from there. So, it was like that.
AH: Very cool. Well I know you have apparently made the most expensive Finnish film ever made. You were able to get I guess the largest budget. How was it to procure that after getting the English actors and developing the story. Was there any struggle to go through that? Have you been credited with anything positive since you made such a big-budgeted movie?
JH: Of course it’s all been like a big dream for me because Rare Exports was like a big thing here in Finland and it sold quite well also all over the world. Then we were able to try to do a little bit bigger film and we ended up doing quite a big film with Samuel L. Jackson and really big actors. So, I’m really happy and lucky that I am at this point.
AH: Well you have an amazing cast in Big Game. You have Samuel L. Jackson, you have Ray Stevenson. You even have some of our favorites like Ted Levine and Jim Broadbent. How was it working with that much talent?
JH: (laughs) Well, you can imagine it was quite nice. (laughs) But, for example like Ted Levine… Ted Levine was like so great that I’m definitely gonna work with Ted Levine again. We were on the same page from the very beginning, and trying to figure out bigger roles for Ted for the next film.
AH: Oh that’s so cool.
JH: Well, it was weird. Weird at the same time too, for example in the Pentagon scenes when I was looking at the monitor. It felt like I’m looking at a movie. (laughs) Like a real movie. Like, “Oh fuck, there’s a lot of famous actors here. It looks like a movie.” (laughs) It was really weird.
AH: It sounds like you’re living the dream and I gotta tell you, one of my favorite things about Ted Levine’s role is how throughout the movie, he seems to get more and more drunk and overwhelmed by the situation until the end, and I loved every minute of it.
JH: (laughs) That was great.
AH: It was a great role and I enjoyed what Jim Broadbent brought to the table. I think you got a lot out of those guys and I wanted to ask you about working with Onni Tommila and his father because they were in Rare Exports as well. Were you friends with them from the beginning?
JH: Well Onni is my nephew so (laughs) I know him very well. And Onni’s father who’s married with my big sister is like a really famous actor here in Finland. So I was really lucky that my sister (laughs) married this actor so I was able to have him in my short films also, and it all came from there.
AH: Well it seems like you have a lot of focus on family whenever you’re making your pictures. I see you’re name and you’re family member’s names throughout all of the credits. Is it kind of like a Helander family affair whenever you start making a movie and didn’t you also write the original idea for Rare Exports with your brother?
JH: Yeah my brother is involved quite a lot, especially in the case of Rare Exports. My brother actually had the first idea of the sort of film Rare Exports, basically the idea of it. So he’s really important to all these movies and of course Big Game. And we think very much the same way and it really is like we develop the same ideas and if I’m uncertain of something, I call to him and I ask, “What do you think about this?” and if he says it’s good it’s, (laughs) it’s a good sign.
AH: Very cool. Since you did get success in the states with Rare Exports and we out here in the US have Netflix that has been showing Rare Exports and all of these streaming services and now Big Game is coming to theaters, are you excited for the US to get to see your films more easily and are you looking forward to bringing more of your movies to US theaters in the future?
JH: Yes, definitely. It’s a big thing to have a sort of theatrical release in the US for a Finnish film and it’s a really nice thing and I think though I have had a lot of offers from Hollywood type studios there, I’m still thinking that I would like to do a third one with Petri and make a bigger movie than the previous one and probably this time it’s gonna be like a totally English language film and definitely you’re gonna see it there when it’s mixed.
AH: Well this one was really big. Big Game has some crazy special effects and the story is just a huge action-adventure survival film. How was it getting everyone together for some off those bigger shots like the one where Ray Stevenson’s character is falling through the sky and where Onni and Samuel L. Jackson are getting ejected up above the huge explosion, how was it putting together giant special effects like that?
JH: Well it was really great and I was happy to work with this German-US VFX company called Scanline which have made films like White House Down and Iron Man 3 and films like that, so it was really important to me to have that kind of talent to do the Air Force One stuff and things like that so it looks as good as American films with a much bigger budget. It was really important to me that also the VFX works as well as they should.
AH: Yeah, and you mentioned Air Force One and it definitely showed in the movie that yo had some love for that film. Are there any other action movies that you watched for influence or inspiration when you were developing the idea for Big Game?
JH: I think most of, if you think about the action is a combination of First Blood, Cliffhanger and something from the Indiana Jones movies. (laughs) Those are probably the main influences for the action stuff.
AH: Hell yeah, and there’s a lot of good comedy beats throughout the movie too. It’s a really fun ride and the way I felt , it was kind of like a rollercoaster when I was watching the movie. I just enjoyed it the whole way through and I saw some comparisons with Rare Exports and Big Game and I was wondering if you had a history about when you were a kid, if you were in Onni’s shoes going out hunting, spending a lot of time out in the Laplands. Did you kind of make these movies from experience?
JH: I guess the underdog situation for Onni in these movies is somehow based on me as wanting to do a really big action film in Finland. No one has done a film like this in Finland and I always wanted to, I always wanted to be the guy was gonna do it and of course it’s really unlikely for that to happen. And there’s been a hell of a lot of people like saying to me that, “Maybe you should do something else. It’s not gonna happen. Never gonna happen.” Like it’s a totally idiotic dream to have. But, I never give up! And I think somehow, like the situation with the happy ending of somebody doing something really great with no one, so it’s close to my heart.
AH: Very cool. Well definitely keep it going and don’t ever give up. Is there anything you’d like to talk about or anything coming up in the future that we can look forward to?
JH: Well I’ve now written my treatment for my third film and I hope it’s gonna be better and bigger than the previous one so (laughs), still a few years for that, but let’s see what happens in the future.
AH: I know we’ll all be looking forward to it. Thank you very much for your time Mr. Helander. It’s been a great honor talking to you. Again, best of luck as you continue working forward. Thank you sir.
JH: Well thank you. Thanks a lot.